By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, October 21, 2015 — The USO volunteer force brings hope to service members in every corner of the planet, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva said here last night at the 2015 annual USO Gala and awards ceremony.
Selva was the keynote speaker at the formal event where an estimated 1,000 dignitaries, military leaders, Congressional members and USO board of governors and sponsors gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
“It is an absolute privilege to stand before you this evening and say the two words in the English language that are wholly inadequate to this evening’s event: ‘Thank you,’” Selva told the USO volunteers. “Thank you for what you do every day for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and National Guardsmen who defend freedom and liberty for this nation every day.”
The sun was just casting its morning shadows in the mountains of Afghanistan and dawn had yet to break in Baghdad, the vice chairman said, “But somewhere out there tonight, a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman or a member of our National Guard is defending the freedoms and liberty that you and I hold dear. And we all owe you a debt of gratitude because standing next to that young man or woman is the spirit of the [USO].”
USO Volunteers are Special
USO volunteers touch 75,000 lives every day, Selva said.
The vice chairman said he and his wife recently visited USO volunteers working in mortuary affairs at Dover Air Force Base, where they “provided loving embraces to families who had lost loved ones.”
It takes a special kind of person to open his or her heart to families who are grieving, Selva noted.
“I’m humbled tonight,” he said. “I’m not here as a senior military leader or as an officer in the United States Air Force, but as a citizen of the United States, a member of the greatest nation in the world that is defended by some of the greatest young men and women humanity has to offer.”
Selva thanked the USO for “not for standing in our shadow, but for standing by our side and taking care of us and our families when it’s most important. When we need a little touch of home, we know you will always be by our side.”
2015 USO Awards
The annual USO gala is also a time to honor and recognize volunteers and service members for significant achievements.
The USO volunteer awardees were former Air Force Airman Richard “Dick” Anderson of the USO in Las Vegas, who received the USO Volunteer of the Year, U.S. award; and Air Force Airman 1st Class Eric Chun of the USO in Guam, who was honored with the USO Volunteer of the Year, Overseas.
Senior military leadership presented a service member from each service branch for outstanding and heroic actions.
-- Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley presented the USO Soldier of the Year award to Spc. Christian T. Sheers of Beast Troop, 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
-- Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller presented the USO Marine of the Year to Staff Sgt. Joseph P. Bednarik of Company E, 2nd Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.
-- Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle J. Howard presented the USO Sailor of the Year award to Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica A. Jusino of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Newport News, Virginia.
-- Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein presented the USO Airman of the Year award to Senior Airman TJ Brantley of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal flight, 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
-- Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vice Adm. Charles D. Michele presented the USO Coast Guardsman of the Year award to Petty Officer 1st Class Angel J. Leott of Maritime Safety and Security, Team Boston, in Boston.
-- National Guard Bureau Chief Army Gen. Frank J. Grass presented the USO National Guardsman of the Year award to Minnesota Army National Guard Sgt. Aaron Burdash of 204th Area Support Medical Company, 347th Regional Support Group, in Cottage Grove, Minnesota.